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With the basic shape of the axe done (part 1 & part 2), it’s now a matter of giving the weapons some style and finish. As a lot of these stages involve removing material, make sure you don’t remove too much foam or your weapon will fail safety checking. Limits will depend on your system -check with a referee/marshal/game-runner.

 

 

Materials & Equipment:

Electric sander – drills with a flapper-wheel or bench belt sander.

Fine knife – craft knife or scalpel

Heat-gun

Dremel multi-tool with grinding disc.

Spanner – to trace around and as reference.

Nut – to fit reference spanner

Not all of these are essential needed - read on for details for when and how they are used.

 

Stage 3.1 – Sanding (Optional)

Sanding a weapon is totally optional. If you have good knife work in the previous sections, you don’t need it and I’ve made loads of weapons without. However, it gives a nicer finish and it’s a good skill to learn. Mostly, though, you’ll be limited by your workspace and equipment.

The key thing with sanding LD45 foam is that you cannot really do it by hand, you need too fine a grade of grit moving at too high a speed in one direction to be manageable. Additionally, I only have experience in successfully sanding LD45 foam, if the foam is too soft it will tear, but other medium density foams should sand okay. If in doubt, practice/test an off-cut before working on your main build.

We’ve already done manual sanding to roughen up surfaces for gluing, so attempting to hand sand a weapon results in the same effect -a rough, furry surface is what you want.

The most accessible way to mechanically sand LRP weapon is to use standard electric hand-drill with the deepest flapper-wheel that you can find. Something around 50mm deep is fine -diameter is less important. I find most commonly available wheels are an okay grade, but if multiple grades are available, you want something medium to fine.

Tip: You don’t want to use a flapper wheel you’ve used for other materials -keep one just for foam. If you sand metal etc with a wheel ,you’ll likely cut gouges into the flaps and when you come to use it on foam you’ll get an uneven finish. You may also contaminate the foam with other substances that can cause trouble down the line.

Most people should have an electric hand-drill, or will be able to buy a cheap one. Alternatives are using a desk mounted belt sander, vertical sander or a pillar drill with a flapper-wheel.

If you’re using a hand drill, you’ll have to build a basic drill-stand/clamp, but there are a lot of tutorials online for how to do this and I won’t cover it here.

I’ll use pillar-drill here as I like the access I can get into the piece with it.

Whichever method you go for, you want a fixed sanding tool and a movable work-piece (the weapon). It’s possible you could work with a fixed work-piece and a hand-held sander, but I don’t think many people would get good results that way.

On to sanding.

Sanding down LD45 makes a lot of coarse dust, which (as a bonus) is often statically charged, so it sticks to everything. Wear sensible PPE, mask & glasses minimum, and a workshop/lab coat is ideal so you can take it off without dropping foam-dust all through the house (this will rarely amuse your partner/wife/husband/roommate/parents/children/dog…). If you sand a lot with the ‘spray’ of dust hitting you, you may well end up looking like a furry foam-snowman. I recommend keeping a hoover/brush to hand to clean up afterwards -even in a workshop, foam dust is very pervasive. It’s worth keeping on top of.

To give a smooth finish, you want to sand with fluid continuous motions. You also want to keep the sanded area in the centre of the tool. Straying to the outside of the sanding surface can leave you with ugly gouges or other marks.

 

Stage 3.2 Embellishments

I’d decided that I wanted to add decoration to look like the handle has been reinforced with some scavenged spanners and some weight added to the head with some welded on nuts.

The nuts are the easiest to make, I have plenty of reference items around for them. From 10mm foam I cut a load of hexagonal pieces of foam about the right size for a medium-sized nut.

To make the central holes I have a set of hand-punches. As the foam is pretty easily cut, I supplement my commercially manufactured punches with some short lengths of tube that I’ve sharpened one end of. With a bit of a twist, these cut through foam pretty easily -a hammer isn’t needed.

Foam punch
Foam punch

With a punch that matches the size of central hole, I make the hexagons into nut shapes. Finally, I give them a basic chamfer on the top face with the sanding-wheel.

Making nuts
Making nuts
Heap of nuts
Heap of nuts

 

The spanners are a bit more complicated. Tracing around a decent sized spanner, I mark out three spanner profiles. Then I cut them out with a fine knife. Using the sanding-wheel, I round them off and give them a more spanner like shape. Spanners often don’t lie totally flat and I want to give the O end of the spanner some shape that I don’t fancy cutting by hand.

I punch a circular hole and then use a heat-gun to warm the foam up until it becomes pliable. This takes some practice to get the temperature right. I use about 1/3 to 1/2 power on my 2000W heat gun. You want the foam to be hot to the touch, but not so hot that if becomes soft (if you leave finger prints in the foam then it is too hot). When the foam is pliable, it will easily bend and maintain the shape once it cools.

Once the foam is pliable, I insert a metal-nut into the punched hole of the O end of the spanner stretching it out, and, quickly before it cools, I bend the end out like a real spanner. The foam cools fast and if you got it hot enough will hold its new shape. The metal nut can be pushed out to leave a hex shaped opening.

If I wanted to I could further detail the spanners and nuts, but I think they’re good enough for this build. I might have added some lettering to the spanner handles, but I plan to wrap them with a binding on the weapon, so there isn’t much point.

 

Stage 3.3 Weathering/Texturing

Surfaces are rarely uniformly smooth, particularly for scavenged and knocked about weapons, so it pays to add some texture to the surfaces. Additionally, these will help during the painting stage and overall give the weapon a better finish.

So I could see where I need to weather and where would be covered/protected by the embellishments, I glued the nuts onto the axe-head and spanner shaped foam onto the handle. However depending on the weathering you’re doing you might want to leave the embellishment off until after this stage, so they don’t get damaged.

There are a couple of techniques that you can use and I use for different reasons depending on the finish I want: cutting, heating, sanding and melting.

In this case, I use a Dremel tool with a grinding disk to apply a wood-grain to the handle (sanding), whilst for the head I just cut some notches and scrapes in with a knife-blade (cutting).

On the head of the axe, I cut some notches and divots, particularly around the ‘wooden’ tip of the shaft that protrudes beyond the axe head, where the weapon would have taken more knocks and scrapes.

Weathered head
Weathered head

 

Holding the Dremel so the sanding disc edge just rests on the axe-handle, I can move it back and forth creating slight scours which I can build up to make a wood-grain effect. Moving the Dremel back and forth in V and O shapes makes up a pattern like wood-grain that has been cut through.

 Wood textured shaft
Wood textured shaft

Once that’s all done, it’s time to paint this thing! However, before I paint it, I leave the axe for several days to allow all remaining glue to cure. I’ve had problems in the past when rushing to finish weapons that they come apart very easily, which I’ve tended to consider is a result of the sealing/painting process effectively forming an airtight outer skin to the weapon, so the solvents in the glue cannot escape effectively and the glue consequently doesn’t cure very well.

Neeeeexxxt: Post-Apocalyptic Axe Tutorial Part 4 – Painting and Sealing